Finding the Psychoanalyst for You

Dear Claudia,

How do I go about finding the right psychoanalyst for me? I don’t even know where to begin.


Attempting Analysis

Dear Attempting Analysis,

When you become interested in investigating your own mind and understanding more about its hidden components, it can really help to work with a practitioner adept in the methods of analysis. A skilled practitioner will know how to meet you where you are, accepting your defenses as part of the process and protecting you from excessive unwanted thoughts and feelings that could threaten the emotional investigation. 

How to Find a Therapist Who Will Help You Resolve Emotions

People usually go to therapists with “problems.” And they look for solutions.  Going to therapy with a question about yourself is a very different experience though.  Because instead of working with your planning brain to find solutions and gauge if they work or not, you are going instead to simply talk, and unfold your mind freely.

In fact, going to therapy to explore your mind, is very different from going to therapy for advice on how to problem-solve.  While having a real problem can certainly serve as an avenue to exploring your mind, the priority is coming to terms with your emotions, not “fixing” things, or applying behavioral models to make the feelings go away.  

Here Are More Concrete Goals for Analysis

  • To help you navigate the dangerous and turbulent waters of emotional distress.
  • To adopt a more hopeful perspective.  
  • To protect you from excessive toxicity.  
  • To keep you from descending into fight or flight.  
  • To nourish and support your growth and self-compassion.
  • To help you resolve your unresolved emotions.

Design a Question

Once you decide to explore your mind though, it helps to have a question, rather than a problem.  Even if you have a problem, it’s a good idea to go into therapy with a giant question mark in front of that problem.  Like: why is this always happening?

Other examples of questions:

  • Why does this bother me so much?
  • Why can’t I get my needs met?
  • Why is my partner so unavailable emotionally? 
  • Why did I pick this person?

The First Interview

The first interview is key to you deciding about therapy, and whether this person will be able to help you.  Here’s what to think about:

  1. ASK ABOUT CLINICAL EXPERIENCE.  Ask your therapist what their thoughts are about your particular “wobble,” or whatever is getting in the way of your contentment. (Go to to explore your “wobble.”) What do they think about confusion, or self-doubt, or anger, or grief or disappointment?  Don’t be afraid to ask your therapist what their experience is navigating the waters of the particular thoughts and feelings that you are dealing with.  
  1. ASK ABOUT TRAINING.  When it comes to investigating a “wobble,” the kind of therapist you need is someone who has also gone through their own extensive therapy.  Training institutes have varying requirements for personal therapy.  Psychoanalysts, for example, have to have a minimum of five years of their own treatment, and usually complete much more.  Mental health counselors, on the other hand, are only required to take classes to complete their training.  Because you are investigating emotions, you need a practitioner who has studied their own thoughts and feelings extremely well, and who won’t therefore be biased with their own unconscious thoughts.  For this kind of work, the more therapy your therapist has had, the better.  Remember: you’re not necessarily looking for direction, you are looking to unfold.
  1. SET A FEE TOGETHER.  Your therapist may belong to an insurance panel, or you may have gotten a private referral from someone who has really been helped by their practitioner.  Whatever the case, it’s important to have a budget in your mind for therapy that is realistic for you.  

    For lower budgets, school and institute treatment centers are a true bargain.  Otherwise, if you can afford $5-10K a year, you will be able to invest in a more seasoned practitioner.  Don’t hesitate to e-mail me for directories I typically use when making a referral to someone in a state where I don’t know any therapists personally.

    My mother took my sister, father and me to therapy starting when I was a tween.  What I have invested in therapy, however, for myself now as a grown woman and for my daughters, has been worth it to me.  It has paid off in droves, not only in helping me move forward with hopes and dreams, but also in creating a life that is loving and connected.  While I could have bought two homes with what I have spent on therapy, I could not have found a safe home inside myself. 

Post Interview Assessment

Ask yourself honestly:  Did I like this therapist?  Do I feel like opening up more to this person? Let your feelings be your guide. 

If your feelings are negative, it may not be a good fit.  This is not someone you are hiring to do a clinical procedure based on their reputation, the way you would want to hire a surgeon or medical internist.  Your therapist is someone who is going to help you investigate your mind, and who therefore should be someone who both inspires and helps you to feel safe doing that work.  


If you’re thinking about finding a therapist, you’re probably on your way to resolving feelings that trouble you, and discovering how to become more at peace with what agitates you. It can take some time for feelings to get resolved.

I had a patient, Emma, who never liked to tell her partner what she was feeling.  She was afraid of him, and she would tiptoe around him while pouring herself two fingers of vodka into her mug at night.  She was tricky and secretive, a skill she had learned young, because her parents were very strict and often punished their kids with spankings, or by making them eat everything on their plates to the point of getting sick. She could not resolve her fear and meekness, and couldn’t stand up to him.

After much talking, and not “forcing” her into behaviors that didn’t feel right, but simply investigating her mind and discovering how she felt, she explained something important to me.  She explained that she liked being sneaky.  She liked being secretive. It gave her a sense of safety and boundaries.

As soon as she could speak this truth for the first time, and discover why she couldn’t be more communicative and direct, the feelings of meekness and fear got resolved.

What feeling got resolved for Emma? The feeling that got resolved was the stubborn meekness, the fear,  the secretiveness.

Sometimes, behaviors that are “quirky” or strange are due to unresolved feelings.

The key is not to find that one, single emotion that you think is unresolved.  It’s to use what feels unresolved to simply generate questions, investigate, keep talking, until you speak a truth about yourself that, once spoken, changes everything by being resolved. 

Find an Analyst Here:

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